I would argue that Sunday School has been used to reach more people than any other tool in history. More than bus ministry, more than seeker services, more than cell groups, more than revivals, more than radio and TV. Before we abandon this tried and true method—and we might abandon it—let’s make sure that home groups are here to stay.
I want to get into some of the advantages and disadvantages of home groups, but before we do, let’s explore several models of home groups. Home groups are not all created equal.
- Andy Stanley’s closed group model. Andy Stanley stands alone, as far as I can tell, in advocating a closed group model. But, he does it for a good reason. He has observed that life change always happens in the context of close relationships and feels that close relationships form best in a closed group. With 30,000 attending, who am I to argue? North Point is now the largest church in America, assuming you don’t count Joel Osteen’s church. (Many of us don’t think Joel has a real church.)
- Nelson Searcy advocates a different model: short-term, semester-by-semester groups. He does not pretend that intimate relationships will form in the small groups. That is not even the goal. The idea is that intimate relationships cannot be forced. They cannot be programmed. What we can program is an environment where casual friendships can form. And, out of those casual friendships—over coffee and dinners and 1000 other places, intimate friendships will form. He has grown a successful church in the heart of New York City. Who am I to argue?
- Larry Osborne advocates sermon-based groups. These are groups that discuss the same topic explored in the sermon. By the way, if you would like to explore this model and need someone to write the lessons to go along with the sermon, shoot me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Saddleback advocates purpose-driven small groups. What they mean is that small groups are a microcosm of the church and should fulfill all of the church’s purposes. Small groups should do evangelism, discipleship, worship, ministry, and fellowship. They should strive to do all of these things in a balanced way.
- Willow Creek disagrees. They think it is an unnecessary burden to ask a small group to do all of the five purposes. Most of the groups are intentionally lopsided in one way or another.
- Discipleship groups. These are closed, but they are closed for a different reasons. They are closed to accentuate the purpose of discipleship, rather than fellowship. They are closed so that they can hold people accountable in spiritual disciplines.
There are six models. Pick one, or make up your own.